A School Project, a Trip and a Castle
Our visit to Hearst Castle was an epic experience for our whole family, but especially for our fourth grader. Part of his school year included choosing a California landmark to study. The day arrived when all the fourth graders would be choosing their California places of significance to learn about. This was a big deal! After all, he would be reading about it, writing about it and recreating it. We were going to be up-to-our-ears in IT – whatever IT was going to be, and we all knew it.
The choices were listed on the white board and each student wrote their name on a piece of paper and dropped it inside a hat. Joseph wasn’t the first to be called, or the second or the third. He waited and wondered when his turn would come. He watched Disneyland go, then In-n-Out (What?? That’s a landmark?). Then went Alcatraz… and the Golden Gate Bridge, and Yosemite… You know what... he was second to last to be called. No kidding! There were just a couple of options left and among them…. Hearst Castle! How is it even possible that nine year olds can leave a landmark with ‘castle’ in the title lingering on the white board? When he got in the car and shared his good fortune with me and his brother, we celebrated with him. We knew what we were in for, an educational experience that would ultimately involve some travel. They can have their In-N-Out!
Joseph spent the better part of the year learning everything he could about William Randoph Hearst and this amazing castle he built for himself on the central coast of California. He learned about the era which included the Great Depression and a by-gone Hollywood heyday. He learned about famous guests to the castle during these days which included Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh and Winston Churchill. He learned about Hearst’s insatiable appetite for antiquities from around the world and his great desire to entertain and impress his friends and colleagues. He also learned about Hearst’s private zoo including the zebras that can still be seen from Highway 1 where the castle’s grounds meet the roadway.
The grand-finale was creating a recreation of Hearst Castle as a float that he proudly paraded around the school grounds. He was sandwiched between the Redwood Forest and the Reagan Library as he and his classmates made their rounds in front of an elated audience. (Pictures of said event are at the end of this post).
So just a couple of days after school ended, we planned a road trip up the California coast with Hearst Castle being the prize we were striving for. We purchased our tickets online ahead of time on the Hearst Castle website. It turns out, that's not really necessary as they offer so many tours each day. There are four tours to choose from and we opted for the Grand Room tour as it is recommended for first-time visitors. There is plenty to do at the Visitor’s Center while you wait for your tour to begin. There is a theater where you can view a film about Hearst. There is a viewing area where you can see the castle at the top of the hill. There are also multiple snack bars and places to buy food as well as a gift shop.
When you pick up your tickets, be sure and also have your kids pick up the handout for the Junior Ranger Program. The questions are simple, but I like that it keeps them focused on looking for certain things like a scavenger hunt. They always get more out of a museum visit if they are actively involved in looking for something. When the tour is complete and their handout is done, they will be able to earn a special Hearst Castle Junior Ranger pin. There are discounted tickets for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Children under 5 are free.
The tour began with a 15 minute, narrated bus ride that took us through the rolling hills of the ranch and up to the castle. Once at the top, we met our docent and group and the tour began immediately. We liked our docent right away. He was very informative, but in a way that was fun and lighthearted. He had a good balance of information that allowed adults and kids alike to learn and be entertained at the same time. Plus, he told us lots of secrets! After the guided tour we took an additional 30 minutes to wander through the gardens and snap pictures. The view from the castle out to the Pacific Ocean is amazing! Viewing the two pools, the Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman pool, were probably the boys’ favorite part of our visit.
Once we rode the bus back down to the Visitor’s Center the boys checked in at the Ranger Station to “take the oath” and earn their pins. With the 60 minute guided tour, time to explore the gardens, the ride up and back, and time to explore the visitor’s center (including the 40 minute film, Building the Dream), we found that 3 hours was plenty of time to see it all. And that's considering we are a family with children. If I were visiting along, I might have lingered longer up at the castle and through the gardens.
While we all enjoyed our visit to Hearst Castle, I think it stood out as an extra special museum visit for Joseph because of all the time he had taken to learn about it over the past year. I know the moment he saw the Neptune Pool and the exterior of the Casa Grande, he could relate to every detail he had worked over in creating the replica. This was a perfect field trip for our family – a combination of education and travel. Something we always look for in our EDventures!
After your Hearst Castle visit, drive directly across the highway to the Hearst Tasting Room. Built in 1852 at the peak of the whaling industry, today it houses a small general store, a restaurant featuring Hearst cattle beef burgers and tri tip sandwiches and a small wine tasting room. This was just the delicious meal we were ready for after our visit to the castle.
Joseph's Float Project
Using things from our recycling bin and one trip to Michaels for this and that, he created a replica of the castle and Neptune pool that fit nicely atop a skateboard and could be pulled along through the float parade.